July 5, 2005

German ex-chancellor Kohl to testify in graft case

AUGSBURG, Germany (Reuters) - A court on Tuesday summonedformer Chancellor Helmut Kohl and several ex-ministers totestify in a corruption trial that could embarrass Germany'sopposition before a planned election.

Holger Pfahls, a junior defense minister in Kohl'sgovernments, has admitted accepting millions of deutschemarksin kickbacks from an arms dealer to help smooth the delivery ofarmored personnel carriers to Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s.

The court's decision, on a request from Pfahl's defense,comes as the country warms up for an expected election inSeptember which the Christian Democrats (CDU), led by Kohlprotege Angela Merkel, are expected to win.

Kohl was forced in 2000 to quit as honorary president ofthe CDU, which he led for 25 years, after admitting acceptingillegal party donations. He has always refused to identifywhere the money came from.

The scandal helped vault Merkel, a protestant pastor'sdaughter from the ex-communist East Germany, to the top of aparty traditionally run by southern German catholic men. Shehas worked hard since to put the affair behind the party.

The court said Kohl would be called to the witness box onJuly 26, along with former Free Democrat (FDP) foreignministers, Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Klaus Kinkel, and formerChristian Social Union (CSU) finance minister Theo Waigel.

Wolfgang Schaeuble, former interior minister and CDU leaderprior to Merkel, would be questioned on Aug. 3, it said.